As the birthplace of radio, you’d expect Chelmsford’s people to be pretty ‘tuned in’, but are its bicycle retailers? Mystery Shopper goes in search of a cargo capable bike and discovers not every retail experience is music to his ears...

MYSTERY SHOPPER: Chelmsford Part One

This month, Mystery Shopper assumed the form of a university student with places at either Nottingham or Exeter in sight. With a budget of between £180 and £400, I was a typical student buyer, not looking to blow my life savings, but understanding that this bike needed to last the duration of my stay on campus.

The bike had to be capable of carting ‘projects’ to and from halls of residence to classes, and as such I was seeking, at the very least, a pannier rack and bags add-on accessories.

Off-road capability was a bonus, but not essential. So what would you offer Mystery Shopper? And would you recognise that Nottingham has a reportedly high crime rate? Or that I’d need plenty of gears to tackle the notoriously hilly Exeter?

Based on Mystery Shopper’s previous experiences in Halfords, I wondered if its Chelmsford store would offer the same level of service as an independent retailer.

Upon entry I immediately saw sales assistants approaching browsing customers. The store was doing well, but what would the bike department be like? There were less staff in this section, so customers were queuing for assistance. When it was my turn to be served, the staff member was happy to walk me through three bikes he felt best fitted my criteria. The advice was good, as were the demonstrations of how I would go about kitting the bike out to carry cargo. Also, the bikes ranged from the lower to higher end of my budget.

The assistant advised I shop around to ensure I got the perfect bike, suggesting I might regret spending under £200 due to the high rate of failure on low budget bikes.

Halfords is flexing its muscles in the cycle territory, scoring on par with the best of Mystery Shopper’s independent store visits. What’s more, photos of Halfords riders were on display. Images like that could see consumers associating Halfords with performance bikes. Cycle King

Cycle King
It’s hard to miss Chelmsford’s Cycle King with its ‘massive discounts’ display and its claim that it provides great before and after-sales service. There were lots of discounts on offer, so anyone in the same boat as Mystery Shopper – seeking a bike for university – would naturally be lured in. There was plenty of stock –far too much in fact. There was a sea of wheels to contend with and very little to distinguish one bike from another.

Thankfully, the woman at the counter was happy to guide me through what she felt best suited my criteria. Encouragingly, once I’d explained my situation, she led me straight to the most reasonably built bikes fitting my needs.

The majority of bikes were priced between £100 and £200, yet when I hinted I had more to spend on a quality build, there was surprisingly little on offer.

The assistant was certainly knowledgeable and listened to my requests before ascertaining the best match. However, the one factor that let the store down was the huge amount of choice. Without assistance, it would take forever to dig out the perfect bike!

You can read Part Two here

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